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Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird responds to a question during a question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, October 31, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick) (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird responds to a question during a question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, October 31, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick) (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe Editorial

Canada should not punish UNESCO Add to ...

A majority of the members of UNESCO have irresponsibly indulged in the political gesture of admitting as a new member a non-state, the Palestinian Authority. But Canada should not frustrate its valuable educational, scientific and cultural purposes by penalizing UNESCO as a working organization.

It is greatly to be desired that Israel and the PA should reach a peace treaty that would create a new nation-state with the promise of being a peaceable neighbour to Israel. But that end – the two-state solution – will not be achieved by pretending that there is already such a state, and, as a back-to-front tactic of embarrassment, granting the PA membership in United Nations agencies before it is a member of the United Nations itself.

John Baird, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was right to say, “We are not happy with the decision that UNESCO took.” He added, “We’ll see what we will do to respond.”

Canada’s displeasure is well warranted. There is no need, however, to reduce Canada’s funding of UNESCO. The United States is now bound, by acts of Congress – buried under the innocuous heading “Foreign Relations and Intercourse – Authorization of appropriations; payment of expenses” – to withdraw all its funding, which amounts to $80-million a year, 22 per cent of UNESCO’s budget. The programs range from protecting groundwater across the world, to acting to preserve ancient monuments in Libya during the civil war and its unstable aftermath, and to World Heritage Sites, of which 15 are in Canada – from the old town in Lunenburg, N.S., to Kluane National Park and Reserve, in the Yukon.

Most strikingly, the education programs at the core of the Western mission in Afghanistan may be gravely weakened.

The Obama administration is not in a good position to prevail upon Congress – given the Republican majority in the House of Representatives – to repeal or amend the law in question.

The member states of UNESCO have acted like a rogue board of directors, undermining the agency’s operations, staff and grant recipients.

This mess is the work of 107 countries – such as France – which voted for Palestinian membership and of 52 more that stood on the sidelines. Only 14 opposed this short-circuiting of international diplomacy. Canada should be content to have done the right thing, without doing further harm to UNESCO.

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